As we have anticipated for a while, Amazon have now released a new 10.1″ screened Fire tablet, the Fire HD 10, addressing an increasingly painful gap in their tablet product range.
As hoped for, the new tablet is priced at an astonishing bargain price of $150 – the same price their 8″ tablets were selling for a year ago. The device can be ordered now, and deliveries start arriving on October 11, 2017.
This new tablet offers a greatly improved resolution over the earlier 10″ screened model (1920×1200 compared to 1280×800) and longer battery life (about 10 hours instead of about 8 hours).
Should you get one? We compare the new HD 10 to other possible contenders for your future tablet purchasing – the nearly new Fire HD 8 (ie with an 8″ screen and $80) and place the two units alongside the three similar sized Apple iPads – the Mini with a 7.9″ screen, the regular iPad with a 9.7″ screen, and the high-end (or, at least, high-priced!) 10.5″ iPad Pro.
Let’s look at the most important features and differences.
Screen Size – More Difference than You’d Think
Both Apple and Amazon offer a 7.9″/8.0″ screened smaller tablet, and then a larger tablet as an upgrade option – either 9.7″ or 10.5″ with Apple, or 10.1″ for Amazon.
Amazon also has a smaller HD 7 tablet with a 7″ screen, but with the 8″ tablet priced at only slightly more ($80 instead of $50) and having tangibly better resolution, we see little/no reason to consider the 7″ tablet, other than as a ‘throwaway’ tablet to have spare around the house or office. When the 7″ tablet was $50 and the 8″ tablet, last year, was $150, the 7″ unit had a clear market segment, but with the price now so close between them, the 7″ tablet is harder to justify. The HD 7 tablet comes standard with less storage (8GB). So, to compare apples with apples, the 7″ tablet with 16GB of storage costs $70, compared to the 8″ tablet with 16GB storage at $80.
Apple also has a larger 12.9″ screened tablet – a truly lovely device indeed. But it is reaching the upper limit of portability/convenience and is starting to cross over into the ‘lightweight laptop’ size category. It is great if you’re a salesman giving presentations to people, and perhaps in other similar situations where multiple people are all looking at the screen simultaneously, but as a personal tablet for just you, it is moving towards overkill. And with pricing starting at $799 and quickly moving past $1000, it scores low on the affordability front. We discuss this further in our related special report (see below).
So, coming back to the 8″ and 10″ screen options – whether for Apple or Amazon – which is best?
The 8″ screen of course allows for an overall smaller and lighter tablet. These are definite benefits. On the other hand, the extra 2″ of screen diagonal translate to only about 1″ – 2″ of extra length and width for the tablet, and 5 or 6 extra ounces of weight.
And you get surprisingly much more screen than you’d think, which makes it easier and more involving to watch video, and to see pictures in larger size/more detail. In approximate terms, screen area increases with the square of the increase in the diagonal, not linearly, so a small seeming increase in diagonal measurement actually makes for a much larger increase in actual screen size.
As you can see from this table, going from Amazon’s 8″ screened unit to a 10″ screened unit, while a 25″ increase in diagonal, gives a 60% increase in screen area. Similarly, going from Apple’s 7.9″ unit to either of the other two gives a 52% or an 80% increase in screen area. And, of course, the amazing 12.9″ unit’s screen is massively more than any of the others.
|Length||Width||Screen Area||Aspect Ratio||PPI|
|Fire 8″||6.8″||4.2″||28.7 sq in||1.6||189|
|Fire 10.1″||8.6″||5.4″||45.9 sq in||1.6||224|
|iPad Mini 7.9″||6.3″||4.7″||29.6 sq in||1.33||326|
|iPad 9.7″||7.8″||5.8″||45.1 sq in||1.33||264|
|iPad Pro 10.5″||8.4″||6.3″||53.2 sq in||1.33||264|
|iPad Pro 12.9″||10.4″||7.8″||80.3 sq in||1.33||264|
So our point here is that the increase in screen area is more significant than the increase in size/weight of the unit, and much greater than implied by the diagonal measurement alone. So, unless you were ultra-constrained with size and weight (or unless there is a ridiculous price penalty to pay for the larger units), we’d generally advocate the 10″ models over the 8″ models.
We feel the larger screen size on the various 10″ models does make a very positive difference when watching video. It also gives some benefit when viewing web pages (font sizes don’t get so small), but makes little or no difference when reading eBooks and of course no different at all when listening to music.
The other thing about a larger screen is that you can fit more pixels on it. Indeed, that is a double-edged sword, not only can you add more pixels, but you probably should add more pixels, so as to keep lots of pixels per inch (PPI). Too low a ppi count and you can see the individual pixels, but when you get to the ‘just right’ number, images look photographically smooth and fonts – even in small sizes – looks like they were printed on paper. As an interesting comparison, laser printers generally print at 300 – 600 dpi, and offset presses print type at about 1200 – 2400 dpi (but print pictures at a very much lower 150 – 250 dpi).
Is there such a thing as a too high a ppi count? Maybe, yes, in the sense that the more pixels on a screen, the costlier it is to manufacture and probably the screen also consumes more power. After a certain pixel density, our eyes can no longer make out any additional improvement because the resolution of our eyes is limited.
So what is the ‘just right’ number? Apple claims it to be around about the 300 pixels per inch, and that’s as good a number as any. Until Apple brought out their ‘retina’ screened devices (first with the iPhone 4) pixel densities tended to be around the 150 ppi number on small devices, and much lower on regular computer monitors (70 – 90 ppi). If you looked carefully, you could see some pixel granularity. So 150 ppi is starting to trespass, at least these days, into ‘too low’ a ppi, even though we still accept much lower resolutions on most standard computer monitors. As a point of interest, a modern typical 24″ screen 1920×1080 monitor has a pixel density of 92 pixels per inch. Yes, you can surely see, if you get close, the individual pixels and type doesn’t always look smooth, but we’ve become accustomed to accepting this. It is helpful to keep that in mind so as not to obsess about the relative difference between two screens with say a 350 and a 400 ppi density, because in truth, both are amazing overkill.
Anything much above 300 ppi – say, over 360 ppi or so – and you’re starting to get no additional clarity by adding more pixels. If anything, you’re starting to make pictures appear inconveniently small.
The Fire 8 has the lowest pixel density, although the image quality on the screen is still acceptably good most of the time. The iPad Mini has razor-sharp images with its high ppi, and the other tablets have good but not superlative ppi counts.
Coming back to the actual resolution count, the Fire 8 has one weakness the other units don’t also share. It lacks enough pixels to be able to show a full HD movie on its screen. HD resolution is 1920×1080, so the other units can fit all the picture information of an HD movie onto their screens, whereas the HD 8 needs to discard some so as to squeeze it into its fewer number of pixels (1280 x 800). This is not really a profoundly noticeable weakness with most video streaming, and in the context of an $80 unit, is totally acceptable. But it is nice to know, with all the other units, that ‘it is all there’ on your screen.
To put this in context, remember when DVD quality video was considered stunningly clear and sharp? A DVD resolution is 480 x 720 pixels, so all of these units are way ahead of DVD quality.
At the other extreme, none of the units can directly display 4K video (2160 x 3840 pixels). But that doesn’t matter at all, because unless you were holding a 4K-capable device just off the end of your nose, you’d not notice the extra pixels and resolution at all.
The two Amazon units don’t have GPS receivers. Apple offers GPS capability as part of a $130 optional extra add-on that also includes cellular/wireless data capability (next point).
Do you need GPS on your tablet? If you’re using any type of mapping/GPS program, then yes, you definitely do, so as to know exactly where you are.
On the other hand, most of us have GPS and mapping programs on our phones, and so do you really need to pay another $130 to duplicate what is already on your phone? And usually, the smaller form factor of the phone is much more convenient to use with a mapping program, whether driving in the car or hiking in the outdoors, or walking through a foreign city.
Clearly, Amazon have decided they’d rather offer unbeatable bargain prices rather than cram in unnecessary feature bloat. We would certainly like GPS – if it were included for free, but noting that our tablet use is mainly to read books, watch movies, browse web pages, and maybe do some email or even play a game, it is not a ‘must have’ feature.
All these reviewed tablets offer dual band Wi-Fi. Apple also offers, as the other part of its $130 optional add-on, the ability to connect to a wireless company’s data signal, too. Note that of course you have to sign up for service and pay a monthly fee for this, but the monthly fee is reasonably moderate, depending on how much data you use.
Is this important or necessary? We have tablets with and without the wireless data capability, and look upon it much as we do the GPS feature. First, we’d never use cellular/wireless data to watch a movie, because that would eat up too much data too quickly.
Second, if we were somewhere with no Wi-Fi, we’d use our phone to access email and to browse websites. Or, we’d use our phone to set up a personal hotspot and connect to it from our tablet, and share our phone’s wireless data, thereby getting our tablet onto the internet that way. We usually don’t use our entire data allocation on our phone each month, so there is ‘free’ data available to use with the tablet, by connecting via our phone.
In other words, adding a wireless connection to a tablet, for most people, is not necessary, and if added, threatens to become expensive.
How Much Memory
Most of the tablets come with at least two choices for memory capacity. The Amazon units also allow you to add a Micro-SD card to further boost their capacity. These days Micro-SD cards go up to 256GB in capacity, and this will probably continue to increase over time to their currently defined limit of 2TB. It seems that 128 GB cards are the current (Sept 2017) sweet spot for capacity/price, but the newest 200GB and 256GB cards are quickly improving in value too.
Micro-SD cards have two big advantages over built-in memory. First, it is the cheapest way to grow your capacity. Apple charge several times the cost of Micro-SD card storage to increase the capacity of their units. Second, you can have unlimited off-line capacity on multiple cards and plug them in as needed.
So why do you need built-in memory if you can supplement it with an endless number of Micro-SD cards? You need the built-in memory to conveniently store your programs, and perhaps some program related data, too. Certainly it makes sense to store movies and music (and maybe even books) on Micro-SD cards, but your programs should be loaded into the tablet’s built-in memory.
It is also fair to observe that Micro-SD cards are small and fiddly and easy to lose, whereas built-in storage is convenient and always there, so there are some convenience factors associated with built-in storage.
Remember also that some of the memory on the unit will be used for the tablet’s operating system (about 3 – 5 GB), so you start off immediately with less than the advertised amount actually available for use.
I have a 16GB Fire tablet that is still half empty, because I also have a 128GB Micro-SD card that has 70GB of data on it plugged into the unit. But I also have a 32GB iPad that is almost full to the point where I am always having to find programs to delete before I can load new ones, and a 64GB iPhone that is about half full. My backup/test Android phone has 10GB free of its 32GB capacity.
So it seems that – at least for me – if you have a Micro-SD card, you can get by with 16GB of built-in capacity (but 32GB would be better). If you don’t have a Micro-SD card capability, then you might get away with 32GB but probably should consider 64GB as the necessary minimum.
All units claim to have about 10 hours battery life, although the magic words ‘up to’ rather neutralize any claims. All units have dual band Wi-Fi, and all but the 8″ Fire include the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol (its omission is entirely immaterial).
There are slight variations in size and weight between the Apple and Amazon units. Nothing profound, although of course, every bit of size/weight reduction is valuable, and generally the Apple units are slightly more compact.
Happily, although Apple has eliminated headphone jacks from their iPhones, they still exist on their iPads.
None of the units have very sophisticated cameras. It is a puzzlement that a tiny phone seems able to feature a much better camera than a large tablet. The Fires’ front facing cameras are particularly primitive. These days video calling (or selfie-taking) is becoming more common and better front facing cameras are becoming less a luxury and more an expected essential.
Of course, if that is really important to you, you probably already have two much better cameras, facing both ways, on your phone. So, again, we are left wondering if Amazon is crazy for leaving out ‘important’ features, or crazy-like-a-fox for distilling the essential elements of a tablet into an extraordinary value package, while leaving the unneeded frills out.
Another factor to consider is the range of apps available for the Amazon and iPad tablets. There are still more iOS tablet apps than there are Android tablet apps. Furthermore, Amazon only allows a limited subset of all tablet apps to run on its Fire tablets. Competing shopping apps for example are less likely to be approved by Amazon than by Android more generally.
But these days the question of who has the most/best apps is becoming less relevant, because, for most of the general purpose requirements we variously have, both Amazon and Apple have a wide range of apps to choose between. Does it really matter if Apple has 50 different currency conversion apps and Amazon only has 20? Does it matter that Apple has 25 different weather apps and Amazon has only 10? (These are made up numbers to illustrate the concept, not actual counts.) Probably not.
Summary and Special Supporters’ Report
The outcome is unsurprising – Apple’s tablets have more features, but not all of these are essential. And in terms of price – well, Amazon blows Apple out of the water. The Fire HD 8 is only about one-quarter the cost of an iPad Mini. The HD 10 is in the 1/3 to 1/2 cost of the regular iPad (and less than 1/4 the cost of the iPad Pro).
We have prepared a detailed chart comparing the five models of Amazon and Apple tablets, together with a ‘ringer’ – another Android tablet that we feel may be the best of all the 10″ tablet alternatives out there. This other tablet has the same features as Apple, and a much lower price, while also addressing a few of the Fire 10’s weaknesses (if you perceive them to be so) and giving an excellent all round product at about the $290 price point (a similar Apple iPad would be about $560, or almost exactly twice the price). So if you do want something better than a Fire HD 10 – maybe you feel you must have GPS, for example, you don’t have to break the budget. Apple is not your only choice.
This detailed chart analyses 17 different considerations for each tablet, and comes with six additional pages of discussion and suggestions. It its entirety, it is invaluable if you’re considering a tablet purchase and want to ‘drill down’ into more detail than in this already comprehensive 3000+ word article.
The complete special report is available to everyone who has contributed $10 or more to our annual fundraising drive this year and is available on the special supporter’s access page (ask if you’ve lost its url). Oh yes, if you become a supporter, you will get several other special reports as well.
This extended report also discusses another measure that I’ve never seen shown in any other review. This measure shows you how much screen area is available to show a movie. So although the Apple iPad Pro has a larger screen than the Fire HD 10, it ends up displaying a smaller movie image (due to its less efficient aspect ratio). This is fully explained in the special supporters’ report.
If you are price conscious, your choice is between the Fire HD 8 and HD 10. The main difference is the HD 10 has a screen that is 60% larger, which has more than twice as many pixels, and can display Full HD video. It also has twice the built-in memory of the HD 8 and a faster processor, although these are not such core attributes. The HD 10 is priced at $150, compared to the HD 8 which is $80 (or $110 for an HD 8 with the same memory as the $150 HD 10).
Should you pay an extra $40 – 70 for the larger higher-resolution screen (as well as the other less immediately impactful benefits)? It depends on what your primary uses for the tablet will be. For watching video – definitely. For viewing web pages – probably. For reading eBooks and email – probably not. For listening to music – definitely not.
As for our mystery device at $290, should you get one of those or two of the Fire HD 10s? See our special supporter report for the answer to that question!
Hands-On Review Now Available Too
We have now received one of the first production units, and you can read our review of the Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet here.